Two locals breathe new life into an age-old practice, creating art out of fabric.
By Jennifer Pappas Yennie
It starts with a sheep—and, if you’re Candice Brokenshire, that sheep most likely has an adorable name, like Doolittle or Pancake. Humbly indebted to the “amazing ecosystem” that enables her to create sustainable art and clothing, Brokenshire is adept at evoking rich narratives of the natural world. Take the piece “With Wild Abandon” for example: rich, gorgeous color with lush tufts of wool—tendrils askew, reaching, unrestrained, as if the fabric still teemed with life.
Hailing from London, Brokenshire got her start in theater before transitioning into experiential design work, largely in the automotive industry—a job that transplanted her from Detroit to New York and, in 2001, to Laguna Beach. After leaving this agency in 2007, Brokenshire did her homework, studying organizational systems at CRR Global (then called the Center for Right Relationship) and museum design, sustainability and color theory at Interior Designers Institute.
She discovered her current artistic style a few years later, following a transformative trip to the Netherlands to work with fiber artist Claudy Jongstra. Drawn by the promise of wool from Jongstra’s personal flock of sheep, she also learned how to dye. By the time Brokenshire left, she was hooked. “There is something really quite amazing about coaxing color out of plants,” she says.
Regardless of the gig, storytelling has always been central to Brokenshire. “I’m not somebody who leaves it all up to someone to interpret something,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m all about the story and the education; that’s what keeps me going.”
Sawdust Art Festival is optimal for this particular brand of interactive storytelling. “Many people come along and think wool is all the same,” she explains. “So, for me to say, ‘Well, no, this is my favorite wool—look at this gorgeous lock of curly wool from Harley or Addie versus this very hairy wool from Moses,’ … people are astounded by that.” Brokenshire’s commitment to storytelling is also why many of the sheep’s names make their way into the artwork’s title. “I want people to make a connection that this is an animal that’s still living,” she explains.
Brokenshire’s process is a staggering marriage of patience, gratitude and technique. As previously mentioned, it starts with a sheep. Next, comes the washing and dyeing of the wool, a process that can take anywhere from a couple days to a full week. This is followed by creating the composition, a lot of which depends on the texture of the fleece and the dye used. After that, she felts the wool, a technical term for wetting it and rubbing it for hours, sometimes days, so the wool can entangle itself. Additional skills, such as spinning and crocheting, come in as needed.
And though every piece is born from a specific idea, because the process is so labor-intensive and the natural materials so keen to express their personality, Brokenshire must work with a certain degree of surrender. “The materials and dyeing process have a complete mind of their own,” she says. “The wind shifts and orange changes to red, for example. And I let that happen, because if I try to control every single element, I would go bonkers.”
Brokenshire is currently showing at Sawdust Winter Fantasy as well as in the midst of working on a collaborative commissioned piece with mixed media artist Isaac Anderson based on equinoxes. Her most current solo series, “Love, Hope & Entanglement,” is about relationships and how we show up in the world.
Evelyne Frick has dabbled in just about every craft skill known to man: sewing, felting, weaving, crocheting, embroidery, knitting, beading, painting, ceramics—the list goes on. Or maybe “dabble” isn’t a fair word, as Frick holds separate degrees in home economics as well as arts and crafts, both earned in Switzerland. She also taught for seven years in Liechtenstein, the small European country where she was born and raised. In fact, she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating, describing her childhood as “times when we didn’t even have TV yet, so many days and evenings were spent on creative projects instead.”
A faithful presence at Sawdust Art Festival for the past 18 years, Frick is primarily known for her wearable art, creating everything from painted hats and beanies to totes and crocheted scarves—statement pieces made with lots of bright, bold colors and textures. She also crafts paintings that incorporate felines. Indeed, anyone who has ever been to the festival likely remembers her booth, deemed the Kitty Corner. “At Sawdust, I am known as the designated cat lady,” she says. “I love painting cats.”
Formative years and her extensive arts education aside, nature is a main source of inspiration for Frick, especially the mountains. “I love to create using many color combinations,” she reveals. “Sometimes it might be very bright and colorful, then monochromatic, but always flowing together—harmonious and pleasing to the eye.” After living in Laguna Beach for 20 years, Frick moved to nearby Laguna Woods; she splits her time between there and Idyllwild, often finding inspiration while hiking, the shapes and colors of found objects morphing into new ideas before her eyes.
When creating a new piece, her process is largely intuitive. Starting with the color scheme, which dictates the fabrics and yarns she chooses, Frick cuts the fabric into smaller strips and shapes. Next comes the fun part: arranging the pieces into an image or geometric design on the backing fabric. Yarn is added to complete the design. The more tedious and time-consuming tasks come next, with Frick stitching, beading and hand embroidering. Once stabilized, washed and dried, Frick can finally see what the piece looks like and decide if it needs more work or if it’s ready to be added to a tote bag or other item.
After the fabric piece is finished, she can use it in a variety of different projects. Regardless, each item is truly one-of-a-kind. “I put all my heart and love into it,” Frick says. “I produce everything myself, without any helpers.”
Frick is currently showing her work at Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy. Her hand-painted hats and visors are also sold at The T-Shirt Co., not far from Main Beach.
Even in the wintertime, Festival of Arts is celebrated in Laguna. At the organization’s off-site exhibit space at Active Culture, “People & Places” will hang through Jan. 15, 2023, presenting paintings, photos and mixed media pieces, all from the festival’s permanent art collection. (949-497-6582; foapom.com)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
In the solo show “Real Good Thing,” Greg Miller’s pieces reconstruct midcentury American themes into modern juxtapositions. Through December, view paintings with found pieces, phrases and pop culture, featuring storytelling and artistic expression. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
In “Design at Work/Alumni Stories,” graduates from Laguna College of Art & Design’s graphic design and digital media programs present both professional projects and prototypes that reveal the design process, from concept and research to application, in a variety of industries. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
Pacific Edge Gallery
New oil paintings by Laguna resident Maria Bertrán will be on display through the end of the year at Pacific Edge Gallery. Created on linen, these colorful pieces depict the stunning natural light and sprawling landscapes of European destinations like Provence, France; Mallorca; the Swiss Alps and more. (949-494-0491; pacificedgegallery.com)
Sue Greenwood Fine Art
A dual show between Glenn Ness and Bradford Salamon is on display through Jan. 10, 2023, with new works. Ness, who paints to tell stories, focuses on urban streetscapes and interior scenes, cafes and backyard pools, both with and without figures, while Salamon often highlights objects ranging from bottles and cans to vehicles, typewriters, snacks and more. (949-494-0669; suegreenwoodfineart.com)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
Take a trip with “Le Voyage,” a local show celebrating the art of travel through Dec. 30. Paintings will showcase stunning destinations, from the Italian countryside and French Riviera to New York cityscapes and scenes from the American West. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)